Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts

Homemade yogurt and poached quince

Nov 19, 2015

     In Greece there are three different types of yogurt, depending on the milk (goat, sheep or cow) used to make it. 
     Yogurt made from cows’ milk is the most popular because of its mildness; it has a less sour taste compared with yogurt made from the milk of goats or sheep.
     In Greece we call yogurt ‘’strained ‘’ if it has undergone a straining process after it has been created. As a result it has far less whey than plain yogurt. Its dense silky texture makes it ideal for cooking too. 
     If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh milk from local farms, you should definitely try at some point to make yogurt at home and experience its wonderful taste. If you have kids, they will be fascinated by the process that magically turns milk into yogurt.
     We make yogurt at home when we have extra milk that is close to its expiry date; this way we give it at least an extra week of shelf life. To be honest, we don’t always strain it to turn it into the so-called ‘’Greek yogurt’’ but you should try straining it at least once and see what works best for you.
     The process is very easy. You only need two tablespoons of plain yogurt per liter of milk. A cooking thermometer too would be ideal to be sure about the right temperatures. Many home cooks claim that within 3-4 hours yogurt has set and it is ready to eat, but I always let it ferment overnight and by the next morning it is ready for breakfast.
     I like to eat yogurt with honey, fresh or poached seasonal fruits, and in many desserts and savory dishes that you can find on my ‘’recipes page’’ on the main menu. Here I also offer the recipe for poached quinces that are in season as I write this.

Homemade yogurt

1litre milk
2Tbsps plain yogurt (not one containing gelatin)

In a pot over medium heat, heat up the milk and, as soon as it reaches 80 C, remove it from the heat.  Then let the temperature of the milk drop to 45 C.
In a small bowl mix the 2 tablespoons of yogurt with a few tablespoons of the warm milk in order to warm and dilute the cold yogurt. Then pour the yogurt mixture into the pot with the warm milk and mix to incorporate. Cover with cling film and place the pot in an isothermal bag like the one you keep your beers cold in at a picnic. If you don’t have an isothermal bag, wrap the pot in a blanket. Let it stand undisturbed overnight. On the following morning the yogurt is ready to eat or to put in the refrigerator.  
If you want to make Greek strained yogurt, place the yogurt in a very fine sieve or a sieve lined with a cheese cloth and place it over a bowl to collect the liquids. If the weather is hot put the bowl with the sieve in the fridge. Let the yogurt strain until it reaches the desired thickness. This might take several hours. Discard the liquid collected in the bowl.
Keep in mind that straining will reduce the amount of yogurt by more than 30%. 

Poached quince

600gr peeled and seeded quince wedges
300gr granulated sugar
500gr (0,5litre) water
1tsp liquid vanilla 

In a cooking pot over medium heat add water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add quince wedges and vanilla and cook for 15min. Let cool and serve with yogurt. You can keep quince refrigerated for a week. 

Greek yogurt macaron, with a honey core

Apr 23, 2015

I often wonder what could be characterized as a typical Greek flavor in pastry; and I usually come to the conclusion that yogurt and honey make a pair that many could consider as a classically Greek. So if I make a panna cotta with Greek yogurt and honey, would people think that this Italian dessert has a Greek twist? I can’t judge but it definitely tasted good. Since I have started this ‘alchemy’ of turning famous desserts into Greek with the addition of yogurt and honey, I have discovered that French macarons lend themselves to the treatment!
The first time I ever saw macaron was five or six years ago when I started reading food blogs and came across the blog Tartelette. I remember how beautiful they looked in the pictures. Then I tried them in a pastry shop in Athens and was sure I should try making them myself. My research on the internet showed that macarons are more or less the ‘’Holy Grail’’ of every avid food blogger and I decided I needed one more cooking book, this time one specializing  on the  macaron. Pierre Herme’s ''Macarons'' proved the ideal master class on macarons since he is world famous for all those incredible and unique flavors. Pierre Herme uses the Italian meringue method which has proven to be almost foolproof in my case. 
Now I had to create a Greek yogurt ganache since I couldn’t find any reference on the internet and it turned out that it was a very good idea. The sweetness of the white chocolate is balanced by the mild sour taste of yogurt, creating a very interesting ganache but, this time, with a Greek character.

Tahini, coffee, and pistachios: vegan cake

Mar 25, 2015

In Greece during the Great Lent when dairy products, meat, and eggs are not   consumed (at least for those who still keep these traditions), tahini based recipes enrich their diet with nutritious elements. Tahini, a paste made from ground hulled sesame seeds, is a super food and, added in soups and other vegetable or legume based dishes, it plays a vital role in good nutrition. It contains many vitamins and minerals and is also rich in protein, - 25 percent by weight!  
In this blog you may have noticed that several recipes, sweet or savory have the ending pita in their name. That is because we tend to call pita any batter which is baked in a flat baking pan.  
So today’s special is Tahinópita, a dairy and egg free cake with tahini as a basic ingredient. Although the original recipe calls for cinnamon and cloves, I decided we had enough cinnamon this winter so a small twist in this cake’s makeup was inevitable: coffee and orange zest in this case. They match really well with tahini and its nutty flavor. Even if you are not vegan you won’t feel that its texture lacks the fluffy lightness usually achieved only when eggs are used. 

Apples cooked in vanilla syrup

Dec 1, 2014


 An urge to search for traditional recipes with apples resulted because of a walk we took last week near our cottage. We came across a familiar old apple tree still standing next to the ruins of a house. It has never stopped producing apples yearly for more than six decades now as my mother remembers, with no gardener’s care -  just running water from a spring on the property. We hadn’t explored this corner of the village for a couple of years and we were pleased to find that the tree was still productive and that there were still some apples left for us by the birds who had already taken their share. I love that sense of déjà vu under a tree like this, imagining the repeated ritual of harvesting its fruits. 

Though apples have been cultivated in Greece for many centuries yet, as far as I know, there are no recipes in Greek traditional cuisine like pies and cakes, which call for apples. They have always been the most popular year round fruit in every house pantry, but have been appreciated uncooked as a tasty fruit and a healthy snack.

 Firikia (φιρίκια) a local variety of small, oval shaped apples with an intoxicating, sweet aroma and wonderful taste are the only exception to this rule. Firikia are peeled, halved and seeded, and then slow cooked in vanilla syrup with blanched almonds. This way their taste and aromas get richer and more intense. I love them as a quick dessert, paired with yogurt which balances their sweetness.     

Fresh quince and filo, mini pies

Nov 4, 2014


 Housewives and chefs have a shared sense of economy in their kitchens. From the shopping list to the fridge leftovers, food is used wisely and nothing gets wasted when it can still be used in cooking. 
     At our house, the leftovers from the tomato salad we had for lunch would be the base for the tomato sauce in the dinner stew, and the cooked greens I never loved as a kid would turn into a delicious omelet that I would, unsuspiciously, happily eat. But my favorite edition of this cooking trick occurred when my mother would make cheese pies with filo pastry and she would save a couple of sheets to stuff with the last spoonfuls of any jam that had been forgotten in the fridge. The crispiness of the baked filo and the aroma of the hot jam always created a yummy surprise treat because the filling was always different.
    You can make a light last minute jam with any seasonal fruits available, and then make sweet filo pies. I made a fresh quince jam and the taste was superb, not very sweet and full of quince and vanilla aromas.  

Greek yogurt panna cotta, and baked figs with honey and walnuts

Sep 11, 2014


   My grandfather planted a fig tree in the garden of our cottage that, despite its age, has never stopped producing fruits year after year. Fig trees, like olive trees, live long. They are commonly found in the Greek country side next to old houses or ruins, still in perfect shape and full of fruits every August, as if time for them is an endless youth.
     I’m sure you have had that ‘feeling’ when visiting an older relative’s house after many years, a sense that you remember it being bigger and suddenly you realize that houses usually keep their shape and that it is you who, like Alice in Wonderland, grew larger. I had that sense the other day with the fig tree in our garden. As a child I used to climb on its branches to pick more figs and back then I used to think it was huge.
      Our figs are yellow, the variety used for sun dried figs. Every August my grandmother would lay them on thatch on the terrace under the hot summer sun to dry and after the sunset every evening we would help her to carry them into the house to protect them against humidity. That ritual would be repeated for as many days as needed until the figs would dry out and be ready for storage. My grandmother stored them in cookie boxes layered with laurel leaves as a preserving agent.     
      Figs are usually consumed fresh, but in Greece we make a wonderful emerald sweet preserve in June with unripe figs, and of course as I said before, some varieties can be dried and used all year in other confections.   

Visináda - Sour cherries refreshing beverage

Jun 26, 2014


 Visináda (βυσσινάδα) is one of the favorite beverages in Greece. It is made with the juice of sour cherries and sugar, cooked until it’s concentrated into a thick, deep purple syrup. Though sour cherries are not usually eaten raw, they taste just wonderful when cooked with sugar. 

In my little village we have only wild sour cherry trees; I never found out who first cultivated them here but they must have loved this place. And even if you plant only one tree, in a few years you end up with a small wild sour cherry forest because they tend to expand like crazy. Though you need to pit twice the amount of the wild fruit for a recipe compared to cultivated sour cherries, the wild variety has a superb taste. Sour cherries can be found in farmer’s markets at the end of June and early July in Greece; in July and even August in more northern countries.

To enjoy visináda, pour in a glass, one part of syrup and four parts of ice cold water or club soda and fill with ice. Sour cherry syrup can also be used over ice cream and desserts or in cocktails for color and taste.

Koulourákia - Easter cookies

Apr 15, 2014


Whereas Christmas is celebrated in Greece in much the same way as it is globally (Christmas trees,presents, blinking lights, stuffed turkey), Easter is, for us, a unique feast  of special foods, traditions ,and most of all, huge, noisy, and long anticipated family gatherings. 
Sweet breads flavored with mastic (tsourekia) and Easter cookies, (koulourákia) are the most popular treats every housewife makes annually for the family and to give away to friends. Of course everyone has this or her own recipe for those special treats. Well, almost everyone did, because in my home town we all shared the same ‘’secret” recipe. It was very common in small towns during the 80’s and 90’s, before the big super markets arrived, to buy all food supplies from the local grocer. So, during  the week leading up to Easter, we would simply ask for the ingredients needed to make 3-4 kilos of Easter cookies.
 Home produced eggs and milk were used if available but the exact quantity of the other ingredients for the recipe like fresh butter, sugar, vanilla and special cookies flour were known  by the grocer and handed out according to the kilos required in each case. 
We became so attached to that recipe which was followed during all of  my childhood years, that before the store owner retired, we made sure to get that foolproof recipe written down and have used it ever since.

Baklava with walnuts, almonds and olive oil

Apr 1, 2014

Baklava has a Middle Eastern origin but it has been incorporated into Greek cuisine to such a degree that many people nowadays believe it’s actually a Greek dessert. That’s fair enough because in Greece we love every dessert made with phyllo pastry and syrup no matter what the filling might be. These desserts are categorized as ‘’siropiastá’’ (σιροπιαστά) which means ‘’syrup soaked’’ desserts. 
Of course, every home cook has his or her own version of baklava: with walnuts and almonds or pistachios, with or without spices, and finally with either butter or olive oil. I have to admit that butter gives a wonderful taste to baklava but my grandmother disagreed. She preferred making her baklava with olive oil during the Lenten season before Easter. She believed it was the tastiest vegan dessert and, in any case, she wanted to use up the remaining walnuts from the previous year’s crop before hot weather would turn them tangy.
 Olive oil doesn’t affect baklava’s taste because the flavor of spices overpowers the olive oil; the added plus is that olive oil makes the phyllo sheets nice and crispy.
If you want to make the butter version, just use the same amount of butter, instead of olive oil. (For a really buttery flavor, drizzle the baklava with another 100gr of melted butter just before baking.)

Amygdalotá - almond meal, gluten free cookies

Mar 1, 2014


  Almond based confections or amygdalotá (αμυγδαλωτά) as we call them are found all over Greece in endless versions. They can be shaped like pears, balls, or little logs and are usually flavored with scented flower blossom water,  a liquor or, less often, with vanilla.  They are often sold filled with jam or chocolate ganache  and resemble French macarons.
Amygdalotá in many Aegean islands are a special little treat symbolizing happiness and prosperity  and offered to guests  at weddings and Christenings,. 
The version of amygdalotá I made today is found in pastry shops all over the country. They are plainer than the filled versions and made with a higher ratio of almond meal.

Diples - crispy, festive bow ties with honey and walnuts

Dec 22, 2013

Here in the Peloponnese, along with the all time classic melomacarona and kourampiedes cookies, we also make diples (δίπλες) for the Christmas and New Year season. Diples, a word which means ‘’folded’’ in Greek, are made of thin sheet-like dough rolled into long, thin strips, folded, then fried in hot oil, and dipped in syrup. Folding the dough in hot oil demands a little experience; but you can make diples in all sorts of simple shapes, - the most common are bow ties and free form geometric.
Diples are served drizzled with honey, chopped walnuts and cinnamon.
In Crete  the tradition is to make  dairy and egg free diples, mostly for weddings. These are  called xerotigana (ξεροτήγανα) and  are made with really long  thin zigzag strips of dough formed into spirals and of course served with honey and chopped walnuts . These last  two ingredients  symbolize  prosperity, fertility, and joy in Greek tradition. 

Karitháta - Super healthy walnut, honey and oat treats

Nov 19, 2013

 These treats have always been our family’s way to celebrate the new walnut (Greek-καρύδια) crop. I remember my grandmother preparing them for the celebration of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael on the 8th of November. Their tiny chapel is in a village next to ours and, on the day, everyone would bring homemade cakes, treats, or hot coffee and tea to be shared in the chapel’s yard after the service. As a kid it was the only time I really looked forward to going to church because I could sample so many sweets in one morning. At the end of spring, before they could spoil and became tangy from the summer heat, my grandmother would use the remaining walnuts to make a final batch.
    I thought I’d try a healthier version of this treat using honey and oats instead of the sugar and grated wheat rusks the original recipe called for, and I’m happy it really worked.

Krema vanilia - traditional vanilla pudding

Nov 3, 2013

Vanilla cream is one of those archetypical and international recipes people have followed since they discovered that by combining milk with egg and flour; you can make a very nutritious and hearty food. In international pastry circles, this cream is called a ‘’pudding’’ and it is also used as a filling for pastries; when in Greece we call it ’krema” and, dusted with cinnamon, it can be found both in  super markets and traditional milk shops.
 Vanilla cream reminds me of my childhood probably because I ate so many bowls of it back then. It’s been a long time since I last had some, and now that the weather is a bit chilly, I thought it would be a good idea to revive these post-school afternoon vanilla creams. 

Halvás - Semolina pudding flavored with lemon zest

Aug 12, 2013

 Halvás, a popular and easy to make dessert, is served across North Africa, Western Asia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Malta and the Jewish world.
The word halvás (χαλβάς) derives from the Arabic ḥalwā meaning sweet confection.  The name describes two types of desserts: one is flour-based, mostly made with semolina flour, and the other nut-butter based, usually made from tahini (sesame paste). In Greece and Cyprus, the term is used for both varieties of the dessert. The standard recipe for semolina halvas is easy to remember since it is often referred to as "1:2:3:4”.because it calls for one unit of oil, two of semolina, three of sugar and four of water, 
Semolina can be toasted to your taste and dry chopped fruits, nuts and spices can be added to the batter for extra taste. Halvás can be kept at room temperature with little risk of spoilage. However, during hot summer months it is better kept refrigerated.

Greek frozen yogurt with honey and walnuts

Jul 26, 2013

    Yogurt and honey has always  been a favorite combination for Greeks. Ancient Greeks used to make a thick milk product that was called piriáti (Greek- πυριάτη). It was served as a dessert with nuts fruits and honey 
    Greek yogurt (γιαούρτι - yaoúrti) has become very popular worldwide because of its delicate balanced sourness, full taste and, of course, its thickness, something that makes it easy to use in many recipes, sweet or savory, as a replacement for double cream or other milk creams rich in fat. It's most visible characteristic compared to ordinary yogurt is its density, a result of it being double-strained. If you can't find Greek yogurt, you can strain thinner yogurt at home to thicken it and use it in recipes that call for Greek yogurt. To strain yogurt, place a colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl (to catch the liquid) and empty two cups of plain yogurt into the colander; leave it to drain for 2-3 hours. Two cups of plain yogurt will obtain about 1 cup of thick strained yogurt. If the weather is very hot, let it drain in the fridge.

    Frozen yogurt is not a Greek invention but it really is healthier than any other frozen style dessert. You can make frozen yogurt in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions or just mix the ingredients by hand -as I did- and freeze them until serving time.

Fondant a la Grec - a delicious sugar Submarine

Jun 26, 2013

As a kid there were three sweets that I loved most, all of them made with sugar and water: cotton candy usually found on during festivals, lemon flavored candies found just about everywhere, and  a vanilla soft fondant served on a teaspoon dipped in a glass of ice cold water. Because it was submerged in water, we called it submarine (ipovrichio in Greek).

Summers in Greece are hot, so it is quite usual to take a nap for an hour after lunch until the hottest part of the day has passed. I never liked sleeping during the day, especially during school holidays when free time is plentiful but never enough. The only thing that could keep me in bed for an hour was the promise of sweets when the adults would have their coffee after the siesta. There were no ice creams in the little village where our cottage was so unless mom made chocolate mosaico for me, submarine was my favorite alternative..
This sweet was always store bought and it came in vanilla or mastic flavor; I had never heard of anyone actually making it at home. A few days ago when I found myself missing the taste of  ''submarine'' I did some research on the internet and  looked in my cooking books for a recipe and I found two versions, one with  corn syrup  and one with honey, and I tried both. I used fresh strawberry juice as a natural flavoring. When I tasted them, it all came back to me: childhood mid summer afternoons!

Pastéli - honey and sesame seeds energy bar

May 13, 2013

Pastéli was probably the first energy bar ever made and it was made with honey.  In fact,   honey with dried fruits and nuts was the most common dessert in ancient Greece. Honey was consumed   both as a sweetener, and as a medicine in the belief that it could promote both virility and longevity. In Greek mythology it was the food of the Gods.

     Honey contains invert sugar which has the quality of providing instant energy when consumed. The composition of honey includes sugars such as glucose and fructose and also minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, iron and phosphate. Depending on the quality of the nectar and pollen, the vitamins contained in honey are B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3.
     Sesame seeds, our other ingredient, have been cultivated for more than 5000 years. The ancient region of Mesopotamia was the first place where it was widely cultivated and then it spread to the rest of the world. These seeds have many vitamins and minerals are rich in protein, - 25 percent by weight!  Do note that sesame, like other nuts and seeds, can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
     Pasteli is made all over Greece not only with sesame but also with almonds or a combination of different nuts. In some Aegean islands, pastéli wrapped in lemon leaves is offered to guests at weddings.
The recipe for pasteli is very simple and easy, but you have to be careful because hot honey can burn just as much as hot caramelized sugar.

Yaourtíni - Greek yogurt moist cake, flavored with lemon

Apr 28, 2013

Yaourtíni was a very popular cake during the 80's. I remember my mother used to make it
for family gatherings or at Easter. Its very fresh flavor coming from both the yogurt and
lemon zest  was something that everyone liked in a dessert especially after a heavy meal. 
All that before chocolate became the Queen of desserts and other modern desserts replaced many of the well known traditional ones.
Yaourtini is a cake we still serve at the restaurant and I'm sure you will love it too.

Greek yogurt (γιαούρτι - yaoúrti) has become very popular worldwide because of its
delicate balanced sourness, full taste and of course its thickness, something that makes it easy
to use in many recipes, sweet or savory, as a replacement for double cream or other milk
creams rich in fat. It's most visible characteristic compared to ordinary yogurt is its density, a result of it being  double-strained. 
You can find Greek yogurt almost everywhere, but if you can't, you can strain thinner yogurt at home to thicken it and use it in recipes that call for Greek yogurt. To strain yogurt, place a colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl (to catch the liquid) and empty two cups of plain yogurt into the colander; leave it to drain for 2-3 hours. Two cups of plain yogurt will obtain about 1 cup of thick strained yogurt. If the weather is very hot, let it drain in the fridge.

Loukoumádes - bite size Greek donuts with honey

Mar 6, 2013


  Loukoumádes are probably the most basic dessert in Greek cuisine. They are made using only flour, water and yeast blended together to create an almost runny dough that is then deep fried in olive oil and served topped with a generous amount of honey dusted with cinnamon.  These sweet fritters have been made in Greece for more than 3000 years exactly the same way except that they didn't have packaged yeast in the old days. Back then they used sour dough. 
     In December in the Peloponnese we celebrate completing olive gathering by making Loukoumádes in family gatherings in order to taste the flavor of the fresh olive oil. Because olive oil abroad  is usually quite expensive, you can use a vegetable oil; it won't affect the flavor dramatically. Loukoumádes are better served immediately after frying to enjoy their crunchy outer skin. 
If you like chocolate you can serve loukoumádes with chocolate syrup.

Portokalópita - easy orange pie for lazy but inspired cooks!!

Jan 10, 2013


 Most Greek pies (we call them pites), whether savory or sweet, are made either by  wrapping fyllo  pastry around the filling or by layering in many even layers. - alternating the fyllo  and then the filling. 
     There is, however, another type of pie that's made with torn up fyllo sheets baked in with the filling or batter, - a process that produces a fluffier and quicker result.  
     These are called  “Patsavourópites” literally ‘pites in rags’, partly to describe the pieces of torn fyllo and partly to suggest that they are the poor cousins of the more time consuming and elegant layered pies. Patsavourópites are very common in the Epirus region. The original version was a savory feta cheese pie but a sweet version was developed not long ago by some inspired housewife and the recipe has spread by word of mouth all over the country.
     To make a sweet  portokalópita  you need thin fyllo and yogurt custard scented with orange zest.